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Can Drones Be Used For Building Construction?

BY Alan Perlman
29 April 2016

Autonomously fleet or UAVs building a tower

Autonomous fleet of UAVs building a tower
Image Source: taken from TED Talk video

Nowadays, drone enthusiast or not, we can all agree in one thing: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have come to enhance our future, improving and even shaping new industries. This is true to a wide variety of markets, including the huge and competitive housing market. As UAV Coach recently reported, some real-estate agencies have been using photography and videography drones to help them better market their business through affordable aerial footage; a great alternative to helicopters. Wait, it gets better, a company has been developing a prototype drone that can help you paint your house, and it is both faster and safer. However amazing this may sound, the question for today is much harder and complex: can drones be used for building construction? Is it an industry which drone companies are going to tackle? Raffaello D’Andrea a Professor of Dynamic Systems and Control at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich is focused on turning this possibility into a reality. Founder of Verity Studios and co-founder of Amazon Robotics, Professor D’Andrea is, and I quote from its official page: “focused on the creation of systems that leverage technological innovations, scientific principles, advanced mathematics, algorithms, and the art of design in unprecedented ways, with an emphasis on advanced motion control.” Giving a drone the capability of flying in synchrony with other drones and being aware of each other’s flight routine enables this dream of advanced motion control. A dream which is everyday closer to reality as shown in a performance by the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control:

Building a rope bridge with flying machines

Three quadcopters were able to autonomously build a 24-foot rope bridge capable of withstanding the weight of a human. Is this the start of drone building construction? It doesn’t stop here. Professor D’Andrea and his team were also able to design an autonomously fleet of drones capable of building a 6 meter tall tower in front of a live audience (watch it here:


Civil Engineer flying a quadcopter
Image Source:

Companies such as Siemens have been using photography and videography drones for visual inspections, mapping and job site progress for quite a while now. However, with the advance of autonomous and pre-programmed flight technology, drones can take a much bigger role in the actual construction. One of the biggest issues, however, is the payload, drones are not yet capable of carrying heavy objects while maintaining the same efficiency. Weight is not the only issue, at least not in the U.S. where FAA drone laws still represent a setback for drone companies looking to develop their businesses around UAV usage. In the meanwhile the Japanese company and second largest construction company in the world, Komatsu, has been developing a service called Smart Construction. Aimed to help the Japanese worker’s shortage, this service allows young workers to learn how to control and deploy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles capable of guiding robotic bulldozers. Basically, a couple of robotic bulldozers scoop rock and push dirt without human input, they are instead guided by drones. These UAV’s map the construction site in three dimensions and update the data in real time. They (the drones) are built by the American company Skycatch and are part of a partnership between Komatsu and the Silicon Valley based Drone Company.

The world is no longer restricted to drones for sale aimed at recreational use. Global companies have already realized the enormous potential of these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Society awaits the next upcoming drone developments. Hopefully, the future of large-scale building will become safer through the use of advanced motion control drones. For now, scientists give their first steps in what might be the future of building construction

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